All the possibilities of empathy: giving a damn–one dog, dolphin, and person at a time

5 Oct

Yesterday I went to see Dolphin Tale with my niece; we’d been waiting to see it for months now (seeing as how it starting showing in previews during the heyday of Judy Moody and the Not-So-Bummer-Summer), so we were extremely excited.

Dolphin Tale recounts the true story of Winter, a lovable and personable dolphin found tethered to a crab trap. A quiet, anti-social boy named Sawyer frees her from the net, but her tail remains irrevocably damaged. Working with a sympathetic marine veterinarian and his extroverted daughter, Sawyer spends all his days with Winter, struggling to help her re-learn how to move her body without her tail and then, struggling to teach her how to re-learn how to move her body with a prosthetic tail. In the midst of this battle, Sawyer’s cousin returns from his Army duty in Iraq, minus the ability to move his right leg.

Through his visits with his cousin, Sawyer meets a prosthetics specialist who agrees to help Winter. In turn, Sawyer’s cousin also re-learns how to deal with his disability. Dolphin Tale is a film geared for children; that is, it has a happy ending. Further, it is also a film that contains huge issues and major real-world problems.

My niece enjoyed it thoroughly; but I gotta say, I cried my way through it. Dolphin Tale does more than tell a true, heartbreaking though happily-ended story. The film strives to provide a multitude of reasons as to why it’s so important to give a shit. Not just because your life might suck, or the lives of your neighbors or favorite cousin might suck. Dolphin Tale matters because it very successfully explains how one unhappy boy’s life is affected by helping another creature. Sawyer doesn’t just transform his own life through helping Winter, he transforms Winter’s life. In turn, Sawyer helps to transform his cousin’s life. As the film progresses, the viewer sees how many people (the disabled and their loved ones, veterans with prostheses and their loved ones, lovers of the aquarium and the greater sea itself) are profoundly affected by the small changes that transform into much greater ones.

Several years ago, I started fostering dogs, and assisting with rescue work in general. I would foster a dog until s/he got adopted, help with other dog rescue group tasks, in addition to having a wonderful relationship with my rescued dog.

I am a person highly sensitive to the horrors and joys of the world around me, highly affected by the daily onslaught of tragedies absorbed simply by reading the news. However, the simple act of fostering a pit bull until s/he is rescued helped to make me realize how important it is not just to know about the world around me, but to give a shit. Fostering and adopting one dog at a time truly did and does make me able to feel optimistic about the world. These supposedly small acts are what matters. Each act leads to so many larger affects and world changes. I thought about this after I read a Sunday NYTimes op-ed regarding empathy, change, and engagement.


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